Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things that Happened (2013) by Allie Brosh, New York: Touchstone Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.

August 2014

 

As a former reading and language arts teacher, I had charts in my room that showcased different figurative language concepts.  I would define the word and then the students and I would list examples.  I always loved language and enjoyed teaching concepts such as onomatopoeia, alliteration, idioms, metaphors, similes, and of course hyperbole.  I always loved the word hyperbole.  When I was teaching the concept of hyperbole, I always said, “I told you a million times not to exaggerate.”  My fifth graders always got a kick out of that joke.  My love for the word in this interesting title is what gravitated me toward this book when I saw it on the New York Times Best Sellers List.  I was even more excited when I saw that the author was a famous blogger and illustrator and that this book was a graphic novel.

The illustration on the front cover is how the author portrays herself.  This character with its creepy little face and spindly arms and yellow cone-shaped hair is the center of all of the stories in the book.  She puts little effort in her self-illustrations, but her other characters and especially all dogs in the book are clearly defined.  Even though the main character has a minimal image, the amount of expressiveness throughout the book is what is most fascinating.  Allie tells her childhood stories through her adult eyes and they are hilarious. She reflects on how she was a pain as a little girl and how those childhood traits have influenced her adult life. Although most of the reflections are tongue-in-cheek, her poignant story about depression was very spot on.  As I read this selection, I realized that people who are depressed really do not want some sort of instant salvation.  What they want is to be left alone so that they can sort it out on their own.  I also know that when I am depressed my own coping mechanisms are the ones that are the best remedy.  The best way for you to get a feel of this book is for me to recount this section and let you make your own decision.

Depression Part Two

At first the invulnerability that accompanied the attachment was exhilarating.  At least as exhilarating as something can be without involving real emotions.  The beginning of my depression was nothing but feelings so the emotional deadening that followed was a welcome relief.  I had always viewed feelings as a weakness – annoying obstacles on my quest for total power over myself.  And I finally didn’t feel them anymore. But my experiences slowly flattened and blended together until it became obvious that there’s a huge difference between not giving a f*** and not being able to give a f***. Cognitively, you might know that different things are happening to you, but they don’t feel very different. Which leads to horrible, soul-decaying boredom.  I tried to get out more, but most fun activities just left me existentially confused or frustrated with my inability to enjoy them. Months oozed by, and I gradually came to accept that maybe enjoyment was not a thing I got to feel anymore. I didn’t want anyone to know, though. I was still sort of uncomfortable about how bored and detached I felt around other people.  I was still holding out hope that the whole thing would spontaneously work itself out. As long as I could manage to not alienate anyone, everything might be okay! However, I could no longer rely on genuine emotion to generate facial expressions, and when you have to spend every social interaction consciously manipulating your face into shapes that are only approximately the right ones, alienating people is inevitable. Everyone noticed. It’s weird for people who still have feelings to be around depressed people. They try to help you have feelings again so things can go back to normal, and it’s frustrating for them when that doesn’t happen.  From their perspective, it seems like there has got to be some untapped source of happiness within you that you’ve simply lost track of, and if you could just see how beautiful things are…. At first, I try to explain that it’s not really negativity or sadness anymore, it’s more just this detached, meaningless fog where you can’t feel anything about anything – even the things you love, even fun things – and you’re horribly bored and lonely. But since you lost your ability to connect with any of the things that would normally make you feel less bored and lonely, you are stuck in the boring, lonely, meaningless void without anything to distract you from how lonely, boring, and meaningless it is.  But people want to help so they try harder to make you feel better and that makes you feel worse.

This segment is just the beginning of Allie Brosh’s view of reality.  The book is filled with her pithy meanderings about living with two dogs, having to move, starting a new job, interacting with her sister, and being a pain to her mom.  Her stories vacillates back and forth from childhood to adulthood and the journey is free-wheeling, blisteringly funny, and amazingly poignant.  As I completed the book, I realized the title was very appropriate because the antics told within the cover were beyond simply hyperbole, but hyperbole and a half.

Dr. Dwight C. Watson, Dean
College of Education

University of Northern Iowa